not in our stars, but in ourselves
Let’s see. Other than my extreme laziness vis-à-vis film-viewing and -reviewing, what’s happening this week?
1. You know how I had said I was done with Game of Thrones? Well, it’s sort of like not smoking when you’re surrounded by people with a three-pack-a-day habit: when your roommates and boyfriend all smoke (or watch the show, read the books, discuss the series in both media, etc.), it’s hard to escape. The “Hardhome” episode was pretty good, I have to say. The “Dances With Dragons” – oh, sorry, “A Dance With Dragons” – episode was very, very hard to take. I was mad about it. Grantland was mad about it, twice. Once from Andy Greenwald:
Before you stop me if you’ve heard this one before, let me stop you first: Despite what many of Game of Thrones’s legions of devotees like to argue, it is not, in fact, a “medieval story.” It is not received wisdom from another age. Though it has the trappings of an earlier Earth, it is actually a contemporary story and should be considered as one. And as such, I fail to see what the horrific immolation of a teenage girl added to the narrative in any way, shape, or form. […] Terrible things can and should happen on Game of Thrones, just as they should in all adult drama. But the more Benioff and Weiss hammer the same chords, the less they sound like musicians and the more they remind me of Cousin Orson, another one of their inventions who, in retrospect, seems like one more clever, meta way to shrug off criticism.
Burning girls alive, raping them, or, like Meryn Trant in the Braavosi whorehouse, buying their bodies like ground meat in a butcher shop, all to demonstrate the evil that men do, seems like a lot of repetitive effort to reinforce an obvious, ugly point. It’s been 49 hours now. I think everyone gets the picture. We can laugh it off or make excuses or point and squee at the giants, but this stuff adds up. It’s bad for the soul. It hardens the heart. What does it say about Game of Thrones that it can make time for the touching reunion between a blonde queen and a CGI dragon but it can’t find a way to illustrate basic human-to-human love?
And once from Jason Concepcion:
What bothers me about the scene is that it’s based on a character acting in a way that’s counter to how he’s been depicted all series. Stannis has been depicted as one of the greatest generals in the realm. He held the Storm’s End against a one-year siege by eating rats. So if the device that gets Stannis to the place where he’s desperate enough to burn his only daughter and heir alive2 is (1) some snow and (2) a sudden and convenient ineptitude at doing war stuff, that feels off to me. Stannis, “the greatest military commander in Westeros” per Davos, is in enemy territory, on the march toward a belligerent castle, and for some reason (i.e., to make this scene happen) he doesn’t have scouts out or watchmen guarding the camp or have his army — made up largely of professional mercenaries who themselves should know better — in the state of alertness necessary in a war. Also: Ramsay is now a ninja. I don’t buy it.
Of course bad things happen on Game of Thrones. But when you arrive at those things through contrivances, it cheapens the shock. It’s about consistent storytelling.
I tend to agree with both their readings of the episode. Now, according to my fella – who has read the books and watched the entire series, unlike me – the showrunners have been setting up this sacrifice for a long time. He cites Myles McNutt’s recap from The A.V. Club:
Shireen’s death is one of the show’s most difficult to endure despite happening off screen, although in a way that is as effective as it is mortifying. Ramsay’s attack on Stannis’ camp cripples the attempted siege of Winterfell, leaving them low on supplies and freezing to death. Unable to turn back and incapable of moving forward in the current circumstances, Stannis turns to the one thing that has worked in the past. Stannis’ only successes to this point have been at the hands of Melisandre, whether through Renly’s death, the leeches removing threats to the throne, or the defeat of Mance’s army in the north. He has given the Lord of Light his faith, and he has been duly rewarded for choosing this side in the war at hand. It only makes sense to follow the same path in this low moment.
[…] Everything about the scene is terrifying, and it’s hard to move onto the rest of the episode with Shireen’s screams echoing in one’s mind. As the scene progresses, you hope that Stannis will stop things. It’s clear Melisandre—who smiles like a psychopath throughout—is committed to this, but is Stannis, really? Shouldn’t there be a limit? Selyse begins the scene convincing Stannis this is for the best, but quickly folds when she sees her daughter—who she resents—burning, yet her husband never moves. He watches his daughter burn because he has committed to this decision, and to facing the consequences therein. Much as Dany must watch the Great Games unfold knowing that she is responsible, Stannis understands that the sacrifice he’s making is one he must witness in order for it to have meaning. They will some day write about his sacrifice as they wrote about the Targaryens, and they will tell of Stannis’ self-sacrifice even if they never mention Shireen’s screams.
Take it or leave it. My cousins were upset with Shireen’s death not because of her death in itself, but because they think Benioff and Weiss have gotten Stannis’s character consistently wrong throughout the show – and this is the kicker. But anyway, let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that this heartrending murder was necessitated and justified by the plot. Even if that’s the case, Benioff and Weiss have done irreparable damage to their show’s reputation by their past insistence on brutalizing women for the shallowest and laziest reasons. They’ve gone and done a sort of boy-crying-wolf: they unnecessarily included so much rape and torture before that now, when they try to claim that George R.R. Martin himself sanctions this particular twist, no one wants to believe them. Well, not “no one,” but “fewer and fewer formerly loyal fans.” Someone on Tumblr – and I forget who, and where I saw the post, for which I apologize – said that Benioff and Weiss are case studies in two people being born on third base and thinking they’re about to score a home run. The farther the series diverges from the books, the worse they seem to do. I doubt I’ll be able to avoid watching more of the show, but I don’t doubt that I’ll continue to be disappointed.
2. To take the bad taste out of your mouth, please read Arthur Chu’s piece about Mad Max: Fury Road. I am very, very glad that Chu is a vocal little feminist, and I’m sorry I hated him so much when he was smoking everyone on Jeopardy! (the way he sought out Daily Doubles like a truffle-sniffing pig really, really annoyed me – because I’m an old fuddy-duddy, and I like things to go in a certain, pre-established order). Anyway, the summary of the article, if you’re too lazy to read it: the patriarchy has always been toxic and violent, and the great/revolutionary thing about Fury Road is that it presents a solution: not running away from that toxicity and violence, but eradicating it and replacing it with something better and fairer. Goddamn right.
3. In even more feministy news, my personal favorite, Neko Case, wrote a very long essay about Women In ____. A year ago, some not-very-thoughtful Playboy intern tweeted an article about Neko “breaking the mold of what women in the music industry should be.” Neko was not happy:
Basically, Neko rails against being categorized solely as a female musician. She wants to be known as a musician, period. She wants to acknowledge great, groundbreaking women in whatever field – but she finds it galling that, in 2015, we’re still locking ourselves into these archaic notions of what girls do and what boys do. She thinks the best way to smash the patriarchy is for everyone to insist on being treated like a king, and treating everyone else as equals. It’s a nice idea. I doubt the powers-that-be are willing to share – but it’s a nice idea, all the same.
4. Someone was a creep at a Boston subway station. I commented that it’s awful that women have to gamble, every day, on when and how to protect themselves against male assailants, and that it’s many times worse for women of color and/or trans women. A presumably white man replied “MEN GET PICKED ON TOO!!!!!!!!!!” Dear god. Some of you guys are a goddamn self-parody, you know? Is your fragile little ego SO delicate that it can’t stand being the center of the universe for half a hot second? Here’s the thing, men: if you ask any woman, either she herself or someone she knows will probably have a story about getting hit on uninvited, or about a man invading her personal space, or about a man disrespecting her boundaries, or about a man outright assaulting her. In light of these personal experiences and anecdotes, many women have learned to treat every approaching man as a potential threat (or at least as an annoyance). We’ve learned to be on guard, to carry our keys as brass knuckles, to carry mace, to worry about whether our clothes are “too revealing” – because, we’ve been told, men simply cannot control themselves around women. “Not all men,” the Nice Guys cry out – but how are we supposed to tell you from your predator brethren? If I’m wearing a form-fitting dress, how am I supposed to know which men leering at me will do so from a respectful distance, and which ones will try to drag me by the hair back to their caves? And please believe me: I am not a man-hating feminist at all. But it’s like the song from Mary Poppins: “Though we adore men individually, / We agree that, as a group, / They’re rather stupid.” Men, try to do better. Please.
5. Mayor Walsh has endured some pretty bad press recently: for his opposition to legalizing marijuana, for apparently never reading the Boston 2024 bid before he threw his support behind it, for his hotheaded reaction to a snafu at the Boston Public Library that ended up being a simple case of misfiling, etc. Today, he did a Twitter Q&A, and apparently, he was quite funny. Sigh. It’s too bad. I really want to like Mahhty. He’s overcome a fair amount of shit in his life (leukemia as a kid, alcoholism as an adult, a face with two expressions), and I think that his heart is usually in the right place. Unfortunately, he seems especially susceptible to bullying by construction companies and their unions – and they tend to want some pretty unreasonable things. (I’m pro-union, but only up to a point. I don’t want Boston to be an eternal construction zone just for the sake of lining John Fish’s pockets.) Anyway, we’ll see. Maybe he’ll pull a Hugh Grant-in-Love Actually and stand up to all the Boston 2024 creeps, tell them all to go pound sand, that kind of thing. A girl can dream.